In response to the COVID-19 statewide emergency declared by Governor Ron DeSantis, the Florida Supreme Court has extended the suspension of jury trials through April 17. While the Orange County (OC) Courts are limiting in-person contact to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady has issued emergency orders and guidelines regarding how courts can balance the needs to dispense justice while safeguarding the public. Non-essential court proceedings are being delayed. Courts are making substantial efforts to allow judges and court staff to work remotely or during alternate work schedules to help ensure public safety and slow the spread of the virus.
If you are in the middle of a criminal court case in Orange County, you probably have many questions. What does this mean for you and your situation? How do you find out whether your case is rescheduled? Is there a rescheduled date? How does this affect your bail agreement?
The most important consideration is to make sure you are receiving accurate information. In these chaotic times, everyone has a friend or social media contact who is sharing their “expert” opinion on everything COVID-19 related. Some of it might actually be useful information. Still, some of it is dangerous misinformation, and it’s often difficult to know what to trust or where to find trustworthy information.
First, the Orange County Court is providing COVID-19 updates on its website. This site offers up-to-date, accurate information. It can be a lot to process, however, so we have provided a brief summary regarding the closures, suspended services, and services still available. As conditions change, this information might also change, especially regarding end dates, so please check the Orange County Courts website for any updated information.
These Services and Locations Are Closed Until Further Notice
- Call Center
- All branch locations in Winter Park, Ocoee, Apopka, and Goldenrod
- Self Help Centers
These Services and Locations Are Open On a Modified Basis
- The downtown Orlando Orange County Courthouse remains open but is allowing only limited public access. Access is granted only for essential hearings as discussed below, requesting restraining orders, and those with advance permission granted by the Chief Judge or presiding judge.
- Cases can still be filed online through the Florida Courts E-Filing Portal.
- Criminal fines and traffic tickets can be paid online. You can also get information about payment options, including payment plans.
Proceedings That Are Being Postponed or Canceled That Were Initially Scheduled Between March 16 and April 17, 2020:
- All civil traffic dockets
- All hearings in Problem Solving Courts (including veterans’ court, drug court, early childhood court, and mental health court)
- All court proceedings at the Orange County outlying courthouses in Winter Park, Apopka, and Ocoee
Criminal Proceedings That Are Considered Essential and Will Continue as Scheduled
- First appearances
- Criminal arraignments as necessary
- Hearings on motions to set or modify monetary bail for defendants who are in custody
- Juvenile delinquency detention hearings
To further safeguard the court and the public, access is only being granted to attorneys and court participants such as judges and clerks. At this time, access will not be given to dependents, witnesses, or family members unless special permission is granted by the presiding judge. When possible, hearings should take place remotely by telephone or video conferencing.
In the event of an essential in-person proceeding, the judge will take necessary steps to enforce required social distancing of at least six feet between all participants to lessen the spread of COVID-19. No one who is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 is being permitted to access the courts regardless of their position.
All jury trials that were in process before the court closures will continue to their conclusion unless the presiding judge orders otherwise. All new jury trials will be postponed until the COVID-19 public safety orders are lifted for the State. Courts are suspending all time periods regarding speedy trial requirements for criminal cases. This adds extra days to the deadlines until at least April 20 or later if the order is extended.
To help reduce the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus, courts are trying to reduce the number of defendants who are being taken into custody, transported to detention centers, or transported between jurisdictions. Attempts will be made to resolve criminal issues between different courts without having to transport defendants between locations.
Any bond and release discussions should take place during the first appearance hearing to speed up the release of defendants when possible. Arresting officers can handle more misdemeanor criminal violations, especially in non-violent situations, by issuing citations instead of taking a defendant into custody for booking and to detention centers.
Courts are also trying to speed up any essential proceedings and reduce the number of participants. For example, the courts are limiting the number of cases that they will hear each day. Plus placing time limits on certain types of hearings, and requiring plea forms to be completed in advance of the hearing for in-custody misdemeanors. In-custody felonies already require plea forms.
Stay Up to Date
To receive the most current information regarding Orange County court cancellations, modifications, and schedules, contact the Ninth Judicial Circuit or visit their website.
First-time bond appearances are considered essential services. If the parties can agree on bond terms before the hearing, the agreement can be forwarded to the judge and avoid the hearing. Repetitive bond hearings and revocation of bond for failure to appear (FTA) are not considered essential and will be postponed until April 20 or later.
Need a Bondsman?
For your specific bail situation, please contact our Bail Bonds Orlando office with any questions. Volumes for both attorneys and bail bondsmen are high, but we remain committed to helping you in this difficult time. If you have a question regarding your specific court proceedings, please contact your attorney or public defender.